The purists will be able to debate method and technique, but Benfica fully deserved to qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals. On a great night in Johan Cruyff Arena, Nelson Verissimo’s players were heroic before surprising Ajax in the last quarter of the hour (1-0). Enough advantage after the result of the first leg (2-2). As had been the case three weeks before, the Portuguese had struggled almost all of this lively and rhythmic evening, but would have fought back with courage, bravery and competence at all times.
We haven’t given much of their skin yet in the heart of the first period, during the big Dutch highlight. Erik ten Hag’s men caused the Benfic’s mass to become unbalanced with nearly every incursion, with incisive divisions extending through many crosses. But the people of Lisbon were able to grind their teeth and ranks, show unwavering discipline and even respond with a few counterattacks.
The Ajax match sparkled in their sets (14, 25, 39, 65) but in the end, the Dutch champion got a few clear chances, even the “old” Otamendi Vertonghen joint managing to rise to the challenge of muzzling Sebastian Haller, who thus will remain Counter stuck at 11 targets.
Benfica finished strong
The more time passed, the more alarmed Ajax seemed and lowered their footing in their numerical predictions. Unlike Benfica, who felt the right move coming and became more and more daring with time. At the start of the last quarter of the hour, Alvarez received a somewhat ridiculous free kick due to a foul on Ramos. In off center Darwin Nunez grabbed Timber but also Onana, penalized for out of time (77, 1-0).
It was tough on Tin Hag’s men, but it rewarded 90 minutes, then another eight minutes into overtime, as Benfica showed impressive resilience. The Portuguese called themselves to the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2016. In the midst of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Liverpool and Atletico Madrid. He is worthy.